An open letter to federal, provincial and municipal governments in support of the Canadian green economy non-profit technology sector

To the Government of Canada,

In light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, a cohort of non-profit associations and consortia across Toronto are working to make Canada’s communities more economically and environmentally resilient. This cohort has formed the Green Sector Economic Advisory Panel (EAP). The Green Sector EAP aims to ensure the Canadian economy rebuilds cleaner, greener and more globally competitive than ever before.

The Green Sector EAP represents thousands of Canadian organizations that are in many cases employing hundreds of workers who are employed in the low-carbon green economy nation-wide. These include highly qualified professionals active in zero-emissions, smart-enabled transit and mobility solutions, hydrogen solutions, waste management and water treatment, clean chemistry and materials, energy storage, renewable energy production and supply, alternative propulsion design and software technology development.

The Green Sector EAP is writing this Open Letter to highlight the challenges facing green sector non-profit associations, and to recommend simple steps government can take to ensure our organizations thrive in a COVID-19 economic climate.

Our organizations employ, collectively, several hundreds of Canadians who can (and already do) provide the federal, provincial and municipal governments with the knowledge and expertise needed to build a resilient and sustainable future economy.  Trade organizations like ours and similar non-profits provide direct value to the Canadian economy through our knowledge-based work with local businesses, investors, and municipal, provincial and federal governments.

We create and enable high quality jobs for Canadians, develop critical research that informs policymaking, and through conferences and stakeholder engagement, bring together leaders in key fields, like cleantech, transportation, energy, and planning, to align strategic thinking and foster collaboration. We also build capacity in our respective sectors which allows Canada, its communities and its citizens to smoothly transition to the economy of the future.

Outlined below are simple mechanisms governments – national, provincial and municipal – can take to ensure green technology associations and consortia can maintain their employee base, while governments obtain the expert knowledge needed to build a robust and sustainable economy ahead.

Three of the primary sources of income for industry associations and consortia include membership dues, government grants for research and policy work, and annual conference event revenues. All three of these have been hard hit by COVID-19 this year.

Association membership fees and conference fees are often considered by governments to be “discretionary spending”, which makes them some of the first public expenses cut when the economy suffers. The EAP members saw a steep decline in membership fees or at least a slowdown of expected membership growth this year as the majority of membership fees came due just as social distancing measures came into effect. Membership revenues for 2021 are highly variable at this point, regardless of whether an association is based on institutional or individual membership fees. Furthermore, for ethical reasons, most associations are less aggressive in their pursuit of new members given the pandemic and the toll it has taken on the sector.

Likewise, non-profit association conferences can account for 50 to 75 per cent of an association’s revenues. Though many of our organizations are digitizing rapidly and offering digital events online, revenues associated with digital events are a fraction of revenues from in-person events given that attendees are not yet willing to pay as much for digital networking or sponsorship opportunities as they are for in-person networking or sponsorship opportunities.

With respect to membership and conference fees, government can support EAP associations in the following simple ways:

1) Maintain memberships in non-profit associations and/or obtain a new membership:

a) Governments should maintain or purchase memberships as a low-cost mechanism to financially support the green technology non-profit sector, while gaining the benefits of expert knowledge and networks for their own respective government agencies.

2) Sponsor conferences, events and other activities that provide value to government:

a) Government can and should continue to sponsor digital non-profit events and conferences to ensure national knowledge-leadership events continue unabated, policy work gets done and low-carbon green technology networks continue to build across the nation to position Canada effectively for a globally competitive world ahead. Importantly, these events allow suppliers and manufacturers to connect with clients and purchasers – thus, attending and otherwise sponsorship non-profit conferences supports the growth of business-led sales across Canada in green technology.

3) Allow government officials to continue to attend conferences for a fee:

a) Now, more than ever, government officials will be heavily reliant upon advanced technical and expert information and education, which our associations provide, to help develop informed policies that effectively build the economy of the future.

4) Reduce venue fees:

a) Governments own many meeting venues across Canada. These can be rented out at a low cost or free (fees being waived) for non-profits during the recovery period, i.e. the next 24-month period at least.

Crucially, governments can also support non-profit green technology associations by turning to us for key technical services, such as consulting and fee-for-service program delivery. Consider the following recommendations:

1) Governments should hire associations as project and program managers:

a) It can be difficult for governments to manage contractors due to procurement regulations and the costs involved in long-term contract maintenance. Non-profit green technology associations can fill this gap at a low-cost with low overheads and no profit margin. For example,

                                       i)     CUTRIC has managed a $7.5M Ontario research and development funding program in low-carbon smart mobility technology innovation since 2016 at a low overhead cost of 8.5 per cent over three years, creating more than 120 new multi-year full-time academic and industry jobs in the process.

                                      ii)     The Ontario Clean Technology Industry Association (OCTIA) and Canada Cleantech Alliance have organized workshops and webinars, connected Canadian cleantech companies to buyers abroad and provided other services to government agencies such as the Clean Growth Hub, Export Development Canada and the Global Affairs Trade Commissioner Service creating value and functioning as a connector between the Canadian cleantech sector and government  at a low cost to government.

                                     iii)     The Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) has managed a federal government “standing offers” program in the past, which involved small contracts offered through a competitive bid process for Natural Resources Canada, at a low cost.

2) Governments should hire associations as project and program managers:

a) Non-profit technical associations employ advanced research staff with detailed industry knowledge of particular sectors and sub-sectors. Non-profit green technology associations can deliver high quality research at a low cost in rapid fire order through contribution agreements with government. In this manner, government can undertake valuable neutral research studies fulfilling government mandates quickly by leveraging a sector that already employs experts in technical and unique policy areas.

3) Governments should open up SME-oriented technology innovation programs to non-profits:

a) Many associations, like CUTRIC, now develop association-based intellectual property (IP) including software and research tools which bring together SMEs, large businesses, governments and academia to produce commercial Canadian innovations. Yet, non-profits are excluded from innovation programs like the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).

We understand the severe impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused for everyone in Canada. The Green Sector EAP appreciates all of the work that your government has done thus far to mitigate some of these losses. We ask that going forward, the government does not forget to incorporate the jobs-generating and cost-saving potentials associated with the non-profit green technology sector, as we provide the knowledge, expertise, and capacity the government relies on to innovate and adapt for a future economy.

Thank you for your attention and we look forward to working with your government going forward to build a stronger, more resilient Canada.

Sincerely,

Josipa Petrunić, President & CEO

Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium

Mike Althaus (Executive Director, Ontario Clean Technology Industry Association (OCTIA)

Dorinda So (Executive Director, pointA)

Robert Stasko (Principle and CEO, Science Concepts International; Founder, Zero Carbon Solutions; Board Chair, Hydrogen Business Council)